Archive | March, 2011

Ten Crunk Commandments for Re-Invigorating Hip Hop Feminist Studies

9 Mar

This past weekend, the CFC attended the important Black and Brown Feminisms in Hip Hop Media Conference at UT San Antonio. We had a great time and  were reminded of all the wonderful possibilities in the field of Hip Hop (and) Feminist Studies, and we thought we would share a summary of our presentation and our thoughts on what can move the field forward. Thanks to  CFs Aisha, Susana, and Rachel for their contributions to this post.

  1. Know your history. – If you are going to engage in scholarship on Hip Hop and/or Feminism, know and cite the authors who have helped to shape the field—Joan Morgan, Gwendolyn Pough, Mark Anthony Neal, Tricia Rose, and others are a few good folks to start with. In the rush to incorporate the sexy theorists of the moment, don’t throw away important theorists like bell hooks, Patricia Hill Collins, Gloria Anzaldua, Chela Sandoval and others in projects on Black and Brown feminisms. See a non-exhaustive, beginning bibliography here.
  2. Don’t Romanticize the Past. – There is no Hip Hop Eden. Resist the urge to act as though there has been a pure moment in Hip Hop where issues of misogyny, commercialism, opportunism have not been an issue.
  3. Positions—Know Yours/Take One. – Make sure as you are doing this work that you position yourself in relationship to the community. Recognize the need to acknowledge your race, gender, generational, and political positionalities. Be willing to take intellectual and creative risks, to question accepted orthodoxy.
  4. Contextualize and Situate. – Name the cultural, political, historical and scholarly contexts of your work and your arguments.  Make sure to articulate the key political and social issues that frame this moment. Other scholars pointed to the 70s and 80s as the era of deindustrialization, the defunding of arts programs in public schools, the war on drugs, etc. But this moment is very different. It is characterized by unparalleled conservative backlash, near total deregulation of media and corporations, outsourcing, the economic and political dominance of transnational corporations, battles over the meaning of American citizenship, the War on Terror,  the concretization of the prison industrial complex and massive economic downturn. These are the issues that have framed the creation of Hip Hop music and culture in the 21st century, and new analyses must be attuned to these issues specifically.
  5. Avoid the pitfalls of presentism.— You cannot have this moment for life. Do work that will last. Do not merely discuss those artists whose work is hot in the moment but will have no lasting value. Make sure that your line of inquiry ascertains the broader relevance of the subject matters you choose, so that the formulations you offer will remain relevant even if the example you choose does not.
  6. Embrace ambivalence. – Reject false binaries. For instance, the line between mainstream Hip Hop and underground Hip Hop is at best blurry.  Also reject formulations like the Madonna/Whore split when evaluating the contributions of women in rap music.
  7. Envision the possibilities. – Rather than merely deconstructing, Hip Hop scholars and feminists scholars alike, must ask “what kind of world are we creating or do we aim to create?” We must also ask new questions. Questions about misogyny in Hip Hop are fairly uncreative at this point. Projects should begin to address Hip Hop films, Hip Hop literature, Hip Hop fashion, Hip Hop and the arts, and Hip Hop’s epistemological relationships to other knowledge systems.
  8. Wield Technology.—Technological literacy is critical for scholarship, creativity and social movements. Open yourself to this world, and begin to ask questions about how the technological universe affects Hip Hop culture and feminist studies.
  9. Lived Realities Still Matter.—Scholarship must be accountable to the people. Hip Hop and Feminist scholarship must still be connected to movements for social change. Also, theory does not flow in one direction (i.e. from the top down.) In fact, scholarship needs to catch up to the culture, not the other way around.
  10. Recognize the Power of the Collective.Collective organizing draws on the best creative, political and          scholarly traditions of both Hip Hop and Feminism, and folks who actively move in these communities,       must both remember and recenter the power of the collective in doing scholarly, political, and creative work.

God’s Plan Ain’t Black Mother’s Dying Young

7 Mar

Yesterday I attended a funeral for a distant cousin, and I was angry throughout the entire service and for the rest of the day.  I am still angry because we buried a 47 year black mother, and no one could tell me why.  The family had to get an autopsy done to determine the cause of death.

The minister preached from Job 1:21 “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”  Maybe it is because I did not know why she died at the young age of 47, leaving four children to mourn her, but “the Lord has a plan,” just wasn’t doing it for me.  Couple that with her white male employer stating that, “she put everyone’s needs before her own;” “she knew all of my family members by name,” and “she was a loyal employee.”  I had real questions like who helped her raise her four children; how many hours was she working a week; what kind of health care did the major retail franchises she worked for all her life provide for her and her children.  And “God has a plan,” just is not enough for me because I cannot imagine that God’s plan is for black mothers to work work and work some more and die young.  The choir was great, but the message did not work for me.

At the funeral for this amazing black woman all of the women involved in her life are excluded from the sermon.  “[He] came forth naked from his mothers womb, so shall he return,” (Ecclesiastes 5:15). This coming forth idea perplexes me because last I checked, and I am a mother, women work really hard birthing children, and I know it must hurt like hell to have to bury them.  These rhetorical and visual images of pregnant women with no bodies, i.e. missing breasts, head, face or legs (like the ones currently circulating on posters for the WIC Healthy Eating Campaign in Atlanta) are damaging.  I’m fine with God being a he if that’s how the church presents their God, but what I find disturbing is at a funeral where the father of the deceased and the father of her four children are not present, but where the mother of the deceased and the deceased are present and on display, the sermon renders them both invisible.  How can you be a present absence at your own funeral.  And to end with “don’t cry…. he is not dead,” I’m sorry but I’m crying because a hard working black mother is dead at 47, and I’m crying because her mother is going to have to bury her.

To be clear her death does not make me angry with God. I am angry because there is no fucking war cry.  No call to stand up for and to support these hard working mothers in our community, who we seem perfectly content to let take care of everyone’s else’s needs before their own.  We are too quiet when they are working themselves to death because there is no affordable housing or accessible healthcare, few sustainable jobs and no protection through unions, and no affordable free childcare.  And when they die all that can be said is “God has a plan.”  That’s not enough, what’s the plan, and are we not the implementers of this plan?  Isn’t the preacher supposed to share the plan with us, inspire us to get moving, to help God help us?  No the message seems to be do not question “the plan,” but come worship at my church of 4000 and maybe I will let you in on a little secret.

I’m sick right now because black women are dying unnaturally of EVERYTHING, and the supposed solution to all of our problems is getting a man.  Get real.  We need a community.  We need burdens to be lifted in real ways now, not when we have “transitioned.”  We need people to tell us to slow down and to take care of us too, or else being an “angel” for others might get us buried at 47.   What we needed was a war cry.

The family did not need an autopsy to determine the cause of death because the answer was written in the obituary.  Mother Jones said, “mourn the dead, but fight like hell for the living.”  It’s time to fight like hell for hard working black mothers.  Let’s give them their accolades while they are living.  And it would be nice if they could be addressed in the sermon at their own funeral as well.  Get Crunk!

The Game Rewind (and Revise)

3 Mar

Last night, CF Asha and I chatted about BETs The Game. We discussed our overall opinion of the series as a whole and the Tuesday (3/1/11) episode specifically. As Crunk Feminist we pay particular attention to the linkages of race, gender, and popular culture and ask for the writers and producers to do better. We posted the edited transcript of our conversation below.  (Note: It’s a bit long, but its a chat so should be a quick read).

Ashaf: Where should we start?
Chanel: well i think the Meagan Good (Parker) thing is a good place
Ashaf: But the season begins with Parker slapping the hell out of Malik. Sometimes I’m not sure whether I should take umbrage at the violence or accept it as part of kink culture. Are there lines? Am I being provincial?
Chanel: I don’t remember the context of the first slap. Was it sexual?
Ashaf: They were having sex on a toilet I think.
Chanel: lol. But they’re doing a lot of slapping this season. Didn’t Mel slap the shit out of Derwin last night?
Ashaf: Yes. Melanie got her slap on a few times last night
Chanel: That’s some lazy ass kink writing. The way they participated really wasn’t in a way that disrupted any kinds of sex norms, which is what I think is interesting about kink. This kink was on some Usher shit.
Ashaf: On some Usher shit!!! Bwahaha!!!
Chanel: what’s that song where he wants her to be the man for the night? Trading Places. Anyway in that song he does this whole thing about how he wants her to take control and give it to him like he usually gives it to her, but then in the end he takes control back. And some kind of way this kind of kink is similar because it seems to be controlled by male sexual desire.
Ashaf: Male desire definitely controlled Melanie’s attempts to liven things up last night. Did you see her face after the other woman kissed her?
Chanel: That whole thing was a shitty ass mess and did nothing for the overall goal of the season
Ashaf: What is the overall goal of the season? PLEASE clue me in
Chanel: i feel like this season really wasn’t thought of when Mara conceptualized the show.
Ashaf: I think they’re just trying to stay on television by cramming in as many stereotypes, booty shots, and pseudo-dramatic scenes as they can.
Chanel: I think that what we saw at the end of The Game’s run on the CW was supposed to be its ultimate ending that would have taken several seasons to get to. Now that it came back they have to try to create drama. But it would be much more useful if they were highlighting some Other Side of the Game (shoutout to Badu) that we didn’t know about. They are really pulling straight from the ESPN headlines and not even doing anything interesting with what they portray
Ashaf: Yes. The same formula won’t work here– especially when the show picks up two years later…
Chanel: They are using the headlines as a measure of authenticity as opposed to actually being authentically relevant to the lives of the viewers
Ashaf: I read an article that suggested that the Game was ahead of its time because the things that they were portraying eventually actually happened on reality television… Now they are behind those headlines, and it looks a little cheap, not cheeky.
Chanel: That’s so true. But it’s sad because these are the only places we have any form of representation. We are not on regular TV at all
Ashaf: But that’s why I’m so thirsty!
Chanel: i mean i feel like through the realm of cable television we have the power to really take some kind of power in our own hands and control the African American cultural representations. Cable television has a little more freedom than regular television because each channel tries to cater to a particular audience as opposed to a broad audience—so BET to black audiences
Ashaf: Yes!!!! And I thought The Game would be really powerful because it was OUR show– brought back by popular demand, not a major Network’s decision.
Chanel: but then that makes me wonder, what the game is saying to a largely black viewing audience, especially about male/female relationships and about black women. So for me, it’s largely becoming a disciplining project for black women. It’s providing a sort of measuring stick for us to adhere to.
Ashaf: Yes. Another way to tell black women how to get, keep and treat a man. Still, I wonder if the changes were the network’s decision or if they really just had less money and fired the good writers. The show looks like the writers meet in a living room and don’t belong to a union.
Chanel: yes! We totally need to know about the production
Ashaf: what about the rape scene last night?
Chanel: omfg. The rape scene
Chanel: that shit pissed me off on so many levels
Ashaf: Level one: Did she really “cry rape”- as in take a saying literally? Is that what people do? I wish that somebody came knocking on the door every time a woman cried rape…
Chanel: As if that what’s rape looks like though- screaming and throwing things. Sometimes sure. But that stereotyping of the reaction to rape is deeply troubling and leads a lot of women to blame themselves or wonder if it even happened because that wasn’t their reaction
Ashaf: Even if we give that horrible performance by Parker a pass and believe that she coerced Malik into sex with that move, what does it mean that the coercion was glossed over? He cried a few tears on a naked model before the show ended. But that was all. Coercion and rape were both jokes last night.
Chanel: Because certain bodies are unrapeable. Men and black women- these bodies can never be raped. So Malik wasn’t raped because men can’t be
Ashaf: Yes yes yes
Chanel: and for Parker, that just perpetuates the idea that black women cannot be raped because they either asked for it or are lying.
Ashaf: Especially those who claim to be raped by those with a great deal of power. We all know that powerful men have hearts– just like Malik. And golddiggers will try anything to make them fall.
Chanel: and speaking of the connection to the headlines, was that not that whole Kobe thing?
Ashaf: Yes, it was the Kobe thing. Recycling some questions from the public about Kobe’s rape trial: Why would Malik have to rape her when women throw themselves at him all the time?
Chanel: [difference being on the body of a black woman. and that connects to the history of the jezebel. the black female slave couldn’t be raped because she was hypersexual and was always already desiring and wanting some dick. Parker wanted sex so bad that she threatened rape to get it. I wonder if they’ll ever show that on the show. A football player actually raping
Ashaf: They lightweight showed one form of sexual exploitation last season when Malik revealed that he had a room full of videos of women, and that some of them didn’t know he was taping.
Chanel: oooooh yeah. I remember that shit. Surveillance at its finest
Chanel: i just worry about the implications of such representations. We’ve been blogging about this in the way that first black women’s experiences of sexual violence are never talked about and second when they are talked about they are deeply problematic. So in this case, she uses rape as a tool of manipulation and unlike a golddigger that wants his money she is hypersexual and only wants sex. But it’s still contributing to these archetypes of black womanhood that keep getting reinscribed and fed back to us (shout to Patricia Hill Collins)
Ashaf: It is strange that violence against women has never been addressed in this show that is all about athletes and their wives and fans… So why is it Malik’s character that gets used for all the “deep” stuff– absent fathers, tolerance of homosexuality, now coercion, rehab…? Is he supposed to be the most hypermasculine?
Chanel: He is supposed to be the representation of stereotypical black male athletes. The problem is they don’t really problematize this representation. Like it could be done really differently and good by pointing more closely to the structures that create such a representation. But instead they just drop that shit in and it sounds so familiar (single mom, drugs…) that it doesn’t call us to be critical. I’m thinking of a show like The Wire that did that particular well (though still left women and girls invisible and marginalized at best)
Ashaf: Right! I was going there. Earlier, they were doing some interesting things with his character… The Michael Eric Dyson guest appearance, the big girls episode… even the (hastily written) homosexuality episode. Now there’s no snark left.
Chanel: yes. That episode was good. It was one of the only times we saw black gay men on TV that weren’t there for comedic fodder
Ashaf: But even the gay episode was kinda comedic, right? Like is that really how gay men get down? They just read some signs then rub up on somebody from behind? That was kinda about heterosexist phobia that all gay men really want is to sleep with straight men…
Chanel: o yeah. I didn’t really remember the details of the episode. But you’re right. It was very flat representation. Even the model saving him provides a binary opposition for Parker and we get another good girl/bad girl thing happening where we are told to view one as evil and one as good. They ain’t slick with their constructions.
Ashaf: Yes– definitely the good girl/ bad girl shit going on. And what does a good girl want? To help the suffering man– even if it means jeopardizing her own sobriety by messing with another addict. What does the bad girl want? To satiate her own desires by any means necessary– cheating on her husband, crying rape-literally-, and coercing Malik into sex and cunnilingus. What was that “cat got your tongue AGAIN?” shit?
Chanel: I also want to touch on the threesome thing. I think it really showed (while not problematizing) the way that we as women continue to see ourselves as projects to be worked on. So even when our partner isn’t expressing dissatisfaction we go off and work on ourselves. Derwin didn’t ask for any of that, but she felt that she had to be better to keep her man. I feel like she’s having to do a lot of changing to keep him in ways that she didn’t have to before.
Ashaf: Yes. Harveyism. The message is that the marriage’s upkeep is up to the woman. I mean she literally dropped everything to “take care of” her husband. What does it look like to take care of a millionaire?
Chanel: how the hell he gon make her go to church?
Ashaf: Right! And when did he become the “head” of the household? He was so corny for all those seasons, but they were more like equals… both focused on doing their own thing and trying to figure out how to love and coexist.
Chanel: yes! How to love and coexist. I hate that Mel lost a part of herself to become one with him. I don’t believe that marriage is about two halves becoming whole. It is about 1+1=2
Ashaf: That is good addition, but in popular culture, love begins with subtraction. Black women need to take away a lot of things before they find “the one”– their attitude, their independence, their high standards and aspirations…
Ashaf: Last night, the women in competition trope was so loud!
Chanel: yes. Too loud. Where is the sisterhood?
Ashaf: Melanie’s competing with unknown groupies, with Derwin’s former lover, with the random woman at the club… She didn’t go through with the threesome because she felt jealous.
Chanel: *snaps*
Chanel: seriously. Melanie’s character has changed drastically
Chanel: she was always messing things up but i feel like before she was searching for self
Chanel: I’m not sure what she’s doing now
Chanel: it’s all out of fear of losing him. So really you’ll do ANYTHING to keep your man?
Chanel: you can miss me with all that. Seriously
Ashaf: I wish the producers would figure it out. The Janae thing is old (more competition!), Mel should have got used to it by now, and should even love Derwin’s son. Med school was a space for tension in the previous seasons– now she’s done. Her hair was sassy before. Now she looks like Weavonce.
Chanel: I feel like she’s become Kelly Pitts’ former character. The way she conducts that Sunbeam stuff is so unlike her. I also didn’t like that Melanie’s measure of progressiveness was tied to having a threesome. She told the woman something like “i thought i was the progressive woman but I’m not.” sooooo [not having a threesome] discounts your progressive politics?
Ashaf: Progressive is following your own desires, sweetheart, not fashioning your desires after what you imagine men will like.
Chanel: i mean i don’t think she’s progressive (well the show hasn’t shown that) but what does that have to do with that scene? And i feel like in some way it ties sexual activity to feminism. I mean they didn’t say feminism but i know they were lumping us in to that
Ashaf: I think it has to do with boiling down discussions of sexualities to discussions of tolerance. I am all for the no-bullying campaigns, but discussions of sexuality have the potential to queer lines… when we only talk about tolerance we are really talking about being politically correct (I don’t see sexuality. We’re all the same)
Chanel: but i know I’ll keep watching and hoping for it to get better
Ashaf: So what do you say to the person who asks why we don’t just change the channel? Why is it worth writing about? I gotta have something to tell my parents:)
Chanel: because we believe in it its potential and we have previous seasons to back up our beliefs. If we really felt that it was too far gone, we wouldn’t write about it. There is so much power and necessity in talking about sports
Ashaf: I think it’s also because pop culture is a form of education. People don’t want to criticize what they enjoy, but they are learning all along. This show will educate the jurors on future rape trials and that’s scary to me.
Chanel: so true! Pop culture matters in so many ways. I just really want complex representations of blackness in all its forms
Ashaf: Yes… crying for complexity
Chanel: depending on how this is received we can think about briefly talking about The Game every Tuesday

On Watoto From The Nile- Letter to Lil Wayne

3 Mar

This musical open letter to Lil’ Wayne is getting lots of love!

I want to join the chorus and give a big ol’ YAY to black girls creating media and saying what’s on their minds! Speaking back to Wayne’s misogyny is super important!

That said, I wonder about the limits of such a message.

Steve Harvey’s views on women are not progressive. He’s simply peddling a more respectable sort of black gender relations that still have women in the role of subservient sex goddesses but with a bit more modesty. To set him up as a positive alternative to Wayne misses his own belief in narrow gender roles for men and women. The song disparages Wayne for being single and seems to imply that ideally he should be married or that if he was acting right he would be. Erykah Badu is signaled as a “good” artist despite having worked with Wayne (and she’s single too; tweets is watchin’).

Wayne gets constructed as wholly negative and Lauryn Hill et. al as wholly positive. That good vs. evil split is a little too easy and doesn’t get at the complexity of the issues I have with Wayne’s music. For me it’s not so much the “calling women out their names” as it is his objectification of women that informs his word choice and the earlier trauma in his life that may impact his behavior.

When we are young and maybe a little influenced by our parents, we can go a little too hard in the virtuous/Queen/good black people paint. In speaking back to Wayne and other rappers with misogynistic lyrics we have to be careful we don’t end up creating a new box for women, that is just as limiting if a bit more respectful. The “Madonna” is just as limiting as the “whore”, even if she gets more props.

I ain’t mad at them though and I definitely am sending them love, particularly since they are getting such hateful comments on the video’s Youtube page.

The three black girls embracing each other who made the video giving peace signs to the camera

Congratulations, Watoto From The Nile, for rekindling a conversation that needs to be had!

The Year in Crunk: CFC Turns One!

1 Mar
CFC 1st Anniversary Cake

This cake was so good!!!

Today is the 1-year anniversary of the CFC!!! We want to thank all of you for your support and your participation in this community. It has been an absolutely CrunkTabulous year! And the best is yet to come!!! This month in addition to our regular posts on politics, relationships, and pop culture, we’ll be featuring some periodic reflections on our year in Crunk. We invite you to share with us what this site has to meant to you — or anything else you’d like to share with us really. But to kick it off, below are a few CFs reflecting on their year in Crunk!

Btw, Happy Women’s History Month as well!!!

CF Sheri:

I always feel like I am my best self when I am in community and collaboration with others.  The CFC has reminded me that when I ask the universe for what I want and don’t shun the opportunity when it shows itself that there are great rewards.  The CFC has been better than any prestigious professional or academic fellowship because I have grown professionally and I feel supported personally.  The CFC displays the type of raceandgender-conscious commitment to people of color that makes me want to be a better writer, thinker, teacher, and organizer.  For the first time I am representing myself and my interests first as a member of a collective, rather than always being an advocate or representative for the interests and needs of others.  Being able to fellowship and learn from such amazing women makes all the difficult and confusing parts of my graduate experience worthwhile.  Being part of a sisterhood makes me feel powerful and accountable.  That’s what I have always wanted.  Get Crunk!

CF Moya:

I had some initial hesitations about becoming a part of the collective. I felt ambivalent about hip-hop and wanted to focus on grad school by eliminating other “distractions.” But my desire for connection to this group of people I really admired won over reason. I started posting and couldn’t stop. I’ve really enjoyed the community that we’ve created for ourselves and those who read the blog. What was once a distraction has become a comforting reminder of why I do the work I do in the world.

CF Asha:

This year, I’ve learned that being crunk means that you boldly live out the politics you preach.  I’ve learned that the way to not die is to lean on, love on and laugh with those who stand in solidarity and struggle. Congrats on our first year together!

CF Robin:

This time last year I was ambivalent about female friendships.  I love/admire/respect/appreciate/stand (up) for in solidarity/treasure/collect stories of/write about black women and women of color…but I have also been injured emotionally and flat out rejected.  So, when initially approached about being a part of a collective, I felt “some kinda way about it.”  But I did it anyway.  Hesitantly and enthusiastically at the same time.  And I was accepted. Liked.  Supported. Appreciated. Talked with (not to or about). Loved. Finally. I was not being judged because of my politics or marginalized for being different.  I was being embraced.  And I felt empowered.  And understood. Finally. I found myself in the words and act(ion)s of women who saw in me them, while I saw in them, me.  A year in crunkness has been a way and opportunity to save myself in a wasteland and to embrace the “blackgirlness” and “grownwomanness” that merge in me, and in others, in beautiful ways. Cheers to us!

CF Susana:

When I spoke to Crunktastic last year about reviving the CFC, I’ll admit I had high hopes for what the collective could do. And the blog has been a runaway success, which is very gratifying. But what has perhaps been most gratifying is the camaraderie and support I have received from and seen shared among members of the CFC and our very crunk, very fierce readers. This past year has shown me in so many ways that feminism indeed lives and that the revolution is on!

CF Brittney:

This first year in Crunk has been soul-sustaining, life-affirming, communion-driven, and laugh-out-loud funny. It has shifted my paradigms, enriched my scholarship, emboldened my politics, and clarified my perspectives. I feel so incredibly lucky to be in intentional community with a group of brilliant sisters (and one brave brother) who have committed to caring for one another through our weekly words, our daily politics, and our very lives. This year I have been shown all the wonderful possibilities of a feminist life – every CF who has contributed to this endeavor has taught me something about myself, about how to make this world better, about how much we need each other. Feminism is not merely theory, nor even only what we practice. It is a lifestyle of intentional commitments to dismantling patriarchy and racism, and all their progeny – sexism, ableism, heterosexism, classism and more. This year in Crunk has been everything I love about chick flicks—Y’all have been my Girlfriends as I’m Living Single (and you have taught me how to do that with unapologetic verve); Here I have been able both to Exhale and to Set It Off. It has been everything I loved about those movies and nothing I’ve hated about the ubiquitous robber of Black women’s stories movie producer who shall remain nameless. I have been reminded that feminism is not merely the progressive woman’s annoying radio personality/pseudo love expert’s relationship handbook (i.e. it’ll teach you how to get your man to act right). It might be that, but it is so, so much more than that. For it has taught me to how to take the best kept lessons from the community of women who raised me and and translate it into a chosen family of scholarly sisters (and brother) who keep me lifted. Happy Birthday CFC, and here’s wishing you many more abundant years to come!!!!

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